I love visiting the higher reaches of the mountains on vacations. For almost our whole trip, we camped at elevations above 11,000' and explored even higher elevation mountains by bike and foot. The animals and plants that live so high wildly flourish during a summer that passes in the blink of an eye.
Early in the trip, I did a mountain bike ride that started at an elevation not too much higher than where we live and climbed up above treeline to the alpine zone where snow lingers all summer long. I started in a magical aspen forest with towering green-leaved trees.
When we emerged from the aspen groves, we saw vast meadows with snow-patched mountains awaiting us.
While still low on the mountain, I explored a side trail and spotted a snowshoe hare still wearing white booties along with body fur that had morphed to brown. Nearby, another snowshoe hare foraged, and his fur was completely brown. Long days trigger hares to shed their pure white winter coat and replace it with a brown coat. Brown fur provides much better camouflage in the summer. The hare with the white booties needs to be careful until his fur morph is finished - his bright paws caught my eye and I might have otherwise overlooked him. I wonder if he is 'aware' that he has white paws that attract attention?
Higher still, I climbed over snow banks while hauling my bike, always looking toward the craigy peaks beckoning me.
As I pedaled, K galloped ever higher.
Finally, almost on the top of the world, K sat surrounded by alpine flowers.
The carpet of yellow was Alpine Avens, a brilliant flower that covers open areas high in the mountains.
The tall purple flower in front of K in the photo above was a Sky Pilot, a skunky smelling flower that lives only in the highest places.
Mixed into the carpet surrounding us were diminutive gems, Pygmy Bitterroot blossoms.
Right next to melting snowbanks and even poking through the snow, I saw Snow Buttercups, flowers that love to live "on the edge" of winter. I guessed that the snow bank had melted to uncover their rocky home just the day before. These flowers track the sun, facing east in the morning, straight upward at midday, and southwest by the afternoon, thereby keeping the flower 3-8 degrees warmer than the air. That's a clever trick to allow them to live on the edge of winter.
Part of what I love about our vacations is seeing plants and animals that don't live at our elevation but prefer the mountaintops. Their fighting spirit inspires me because their world has so few warm and easy days of summer.
On that note, even at our elevation, the summer days seem fleeting. My mountain bike ride today was in drenching rain and 45 deg air. I sported chemical hand warmers and toe warmers plus a complete waterproof outer layer. I still arrived home with sickly white toe and fingertips, a result of my easily-triggered Raynaud's Syndrome. Come back, Summer!